| Cathedral Basin Cirque and More...
Day 1, 08/27/08
"Electric Pass Peak", 13,635
Cathedral Peak, 13,943
Malamute Peak, 13,348
Day 2, 08/28/08
"West Pearl Peak", 13,312
Pearl Mountain, 13,362
Greg Mace Peak, 12,580
After a successful trip to the Elks earlier in the month, I was itchin' to get back, so I decided to take a stab at the Cathedral Basin peaks. I met up with my partner, Sandy, on Tuesday evening outside of Aspen and camped out. On Wednesday we woke up at 4 AM and made our short 30 minute drive to the Cathedral Lake trailhead. As we made the hike into the Basin, the sun began to rise and warm us up. Our goal was to climb "Electric Pass Peak" and then take the traverse over to Cathedral Peak. We decided to climb Electric Pass Peak first because we wanted to up-climb the Class 4 crux on the traverse (we found an easier alternative), and avoid climbing up the obnoxious scree gully on the standard route of Cathedral.
Shortly after 8:00 we arrived at the summit of Electric Pass Peak and then started down the south ridge of Electric Pass Peak. We stayed on the ridge proper until we reached the saddle between Electric Pass Peak and Cathedral. From the saddle, the traverse looked intimidating and now the fun began. We started out by skirting around two small towers to the west of the ridge. After these two towers, we regained the ridge proper until we came to a short class 4 down climb which was approximately halfway across the traverse. The short class 4 down climb wasn't all that difficult, but was on some questionable rock. The exposure was very minimal. After this class 4 down climb, it appeared that staying on the ridge proper wasn't much of an option so we avoided the difficulties of the ridge by skirting to the west side of the ridge.
As we made our way to the summit of Cathedral, we did a series of descending scree gullies followed by some up-climbing on class 3 rock. At this point, we didn't want to get too low and fight extreme "explosive" scree, and we didn't want to get too high and follow exposed ledges that cliffed out. We stayed approximately 100-200 feet below the ridge as we bypassed many obtruding rock buttresses which worked out very well. After about 3 series of descending scree and ascending rock, we finally bypassed the large prominent notch in the ridge (when viewed from the Electric Pass trail) which had me worried if we stayed too high. Since we now bypassed this notch, we decided to climb back to the ridge proper. The climbing to regain the ridge was Class 3. Now we were close to summit of Cathedral. The ridge was good class 3 climbing until we reached a 30-40 foot headwall just below the summit. From what I read from other trip reports, this was the class 4 crux of the traverse. We actually found a Class 3 bypass on some surprisingly solid rock about 150 feet south of the headwall on the west side of the ridge. From the top of the headwall, it was a short class 2 hike to a rewarding summit. It took us a little over 2 hours to complete the traverse.
Once we arrived at the summit, I consulted my topo and figured that I could tag on Malamute Peak. My original plan for Malamute was to drive up the Castle Peak road and climb the peak from that side. I would knew I would feel guilty taking the cheap way out on that peak if I climbed it from Castle Peak road. We decided the best way to climb Malamute was to descend Cathedral's standard route and contour southeast in the basin at 13000 feet.
While descending off the 500+ foot scree chute on Cathedral, we both agreed that climbing Electric Pass Peak first was a good option. It was much easier to ski down the scree than to climb it. Once we descended into the basin, we started our contour at 13,000 feet. Our objective was to get to the lake at 12,700 just northwest of the Malamute with minimal elevation loss/gain. Unfortunately, the entire contour was on talus and was slow going.
About halfway along our contour we had to bypass a large rock buttress that extends off of the Castle-Cathedral ridge. There were two options to bypass this rock buttress, either descend to ~12,500 and continue the contour at that elevation or traverse high up on a scree ledge. We decided to go for the scree ledge. As we made our way around the buttress we found out that we were about 300 feet above the lake at 12,700. Again, we had two options. We could either descend to the lake and take a direct scree gully to the saddle on Malamute's west ridge or just continue our contour at 13,000 and regain Malamute's west ridge a bit higher. They had about the same amount of elevation gain. We decided to climb the ridge from our present elevation. Once on the west ridge of Malamute, it was a nice class 2 hike to the summit. We had to bypass some towers on the ridge which were avoided to the north side. The hike up Malamute was one of the more enjoyable Elk ridges I have climbed.
From the summit of Malamute, views of Cathedral and Castle were excellent. We could see several climbers hiking down the Castle Peak road. It boggles my mind how many climbers over look this peak from Castle. I know I did when I was infected with that awful fourteener plague. The climb from Castle would only add about 400 more feet elevation gain. Oh well, more solitude for me!
On our hike down, we checked out the lake at 12,700 and some old debris from mining. It fascinated me how algae was growing at this lake at 12,700; I have never seen algae growing in a lake at this elevation. On our descent at ~12,400 to Cathedral Lake, we ran into a large cliff which hindered further progress. We bypassed this cliff by down climbing some class 3 cliff bands next to a stream.
We arrived at the car around 6:30, and decided to camp along the Castle Peak road for our climb of Pearl Mountain and "West Pearl Mountain." The plan was to drive up the Pearl Pass road up to 12,100 and park there. Before I set up camp, I decided to see how "rough" the Pearl Pass road was before I was about to drive it at 5 AM. Immediately after I turned off the Castle Peak road, the road becomes rougher but doable. I continued up the Peal Pass road and just below 11,800 there is a nasty area that is questionable in a stock 4x4 vehicle. Since I value my Pathfinder and somewhat cheap car insurance, I decided to retreat. The road was very narrow, and I had to reverse down the road for several hundred feet before I could find a place to turn around.
After sleeping in to 5:00 AM, we started our drive up the Pear Pass road where I found a decent parking spot on a switchback at ~11,700. We started hiking at 5:45 AM and hiked up the northeast ridge of "West Pearl Peak," traversed over to Pearl Peak and descended from the saddle of Pearl and West Pearl back to the Pearl Pass Road. The hiking was class 2. On the hike back to the car, I decided to climb Greg Mace Peak (12,580) as well. At first, the peak looks docile, but has a rugged summit massive. I bypassed the ugly summit block by descending 50 feet and traversing to the northeast around the ridge and then climbing the class 2 north ridge to the summit. We returned to the car around 10:30 after two successful days in the Elk's.
Looking back on the climbing, I think if I were to climb Malamute again from Cathedral, I would do the complete ridge traverse. I think the elevation gain/loss would be the same as descending into the Basin and it would avoid a long traverse on talus. The ridge didn't look all that difficult, and any difficulties could be avoided by traversing them to the west. Also, I thought route finding from Electric Pass Peak to Cathedral would fairly straight forward, whereas I think it might be a bit more difficult from Cathedral.
Sandy fighting scree on the Cathedral Electric Traverse.
Class 3 up-climb on Cathedral-Electric Traverse.
Class 3 up-climb.
The notch we wanted to avoid. Don't want to get to high on that one.
Looking back at the Cathedral-Electric Traverse.
Final Class 3 ledge.
Final Class 3 scramble gain ridge.
Cathedral-Electric Traverse viewed from Cathedral.
Scree Ski off of Cathedral.
Ledges at ~13000 on our way to Malamute. Malamute is in the background.
Malamute looking east.
Cathedral and Electric Pass Peak from Malamute.
Crazy Algae in lake at 12,7000.
Lake at 12,700.
Bypassing the final cliff band on our way to Cathedral Lake.
Cathedral from Cathedral Lake.
Castle from Pearl Mountain.
Greg Mace Peak (12,580). Who said 12vers looked easy?
Pearl and "West Pearl" from Greg Mace Peak.
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):